Perhaps this piece should be called “A Salute to Changing times.”Chie and I recently visited frinds in Maryland and North Carolina, states which I had not been to for many years.My memory of Baltimore was a group of identical row house, where I would never live for fear of trying to find my way home drunk some night.The city has vastly improved with an attractive city center and lovely scenic suburban areas, not to mention Charleston, a really great retaurant.

      The Raleigh Durham are in North Carolina was even more of a pleasant surprise. The daughter of our friend had recently enrolled in the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. This gave us an excuse for wandering around the campus. Perhaps I should not have been surprised, since I read newspapers and listen to newscasts, but seeing is believing. I was pleased and proud to see white and African-American students strolling around the campus in friendly and happy groups. That’s the sway it should be, but I am old enough to remember Governors standing in doorways of southern colleges, threatening to block admission of Black children.
Progress in racial relations is always welcome.

      Icing on the cake. We stayed at the home of our friend in an attractive area of newly built middle class houses. Lo and behold, her next-door neighbor was an interracial couple–a black husband and a white wife. True, North Carolina is not the deep South, but . . . Ain’t progress wonderful?

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As a traditional liberal, I have many differences with Republican policies. However, one outstanding one sticks out like a sore thumb and has had a devastating effect on our Country’s progress. That policy, that sin, is to make taxation a dirty word.

For more years than I care to remember, Republicans have been harping on the claim that Americans are overtaxed. They use this as a club against the Democrats, claiming over and over that the Democrats are the “tax and spend” party, this despite the fact that the Republicans, under Bush, have spent more of the public’s money than any previous administration.

The Republicans have done more than just complaining about taxation; they have created an image of taxation as an evil practice. Unfortunately, many members of the public have accepted this erroneous concept.

By making taxes a dirty word, the Republicans have made it impossible for our government to raise money for necessary expenditures and, have consequently forced the government to borrow, borrow, borrow money from foreign countries (particularly China and Japan) to cover these expenses. This has not only vastly increased our national debt, it has put us at the mercy of other governments who are not necessarily friendly to our aims.

Taxes are necessary to finance our military machine, our police forces, our schools, our fire departments, our federal departments who protect the safety of our food supplies. Many other areas are starved for necessary financing. As a result, our military machine is in sad shape; our schools are deteriorating and we have had periodic reports of lives lost due to food contamination.

We also need taxes to keep our roads, bridges, water supplies and sewage systems in good repair. Because we have not raised sufficient money to keep up the quality of our infrastructure, substantial deterioration has taken place and we have been forced to apply bandaids where extensive replacements and renovation are required. As a consequence, for example, we have had bridges collapse with resulting loss of life.

Unfortunately, the Democratic opposition has been frightened by the possibility of losing elections if they press for proper financing to keep out country on the right path. With the Republicans constantly pressing for tax relief (particularly for the rich) and with the Democrats retreating out of political cowardice, the country is sinking deeper and deeper into a financial hole.

We are not overtaxed. This is particularly true of the wealthy segment of our population who are given special benefits and who are allowed to take advantage of huge loopholes in the tax laws.

Republicans may scoff, but paying necessary taxes is essentially a patriotic duty.

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The U.S. State Department has issued a warning to Americans contemplating a visit to Europe. “In light of the increased concern about the potential for terrorist (Al Qaeda) attacks,” exercise caution, avoid crowds, be careful, be very careful. The warning statement covered a large geographic area, but was scant on specifics. We offer clarification:

Bon voyage to Paris, but don’t go near the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysee, the Etoile, the Opera and the Louvre. And ladies, the crowds in Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are murder.

Be sure to cross the channel to London, but be very cautious about visiting Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and Kensington Palace, particularly at Changing of the Guard time.Want to avoid crowds, a real temptation for terrorists, stay away from Harrods. And incidentally, the Underground is a favorite bombing target.To be absolutely secure, it might be a good idea to avoid London altogether. A nice motor tour around the Cotswolds is extremely pleasant–– and relatively safe.

Rome is lovely at this time of year. There are always crowds around the Trevi Fountain, so tossing a coin into the fountain may accompany your last wish. The Spanish Steps is another great gathering place. And don’t think that the Vatican is safe holy ground. Since terrorists blow up Mosques and Synagogues, don’t for a moment think that fear of Allah makes the Vatican sacrosanct.

So, what about Germany? You’ve heard that Berlin is not safe, so you might want to try Cologne or Dusseldorf. Cologne has many beautiful cathedrals. The best known and most frequently visited by tourists is the Dom, if you don’t mind crowds. One should never visit this city without hoisting a stein of beer at one or more of its famous brauhauses. Trying to find a small, uncrowded one, however, is not easy. Ladies like to visit Dusseldorf to wander around Konigsalle, one of the most spectacular high fashion shopping streets in Europe. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most crowded. You pays your money, and you takes your chances.

Fellow American travellers, the Government’s warning can be summed up with an old folk song from the Ozarks:
“Mother, may I go out to swim?
Yes, my darling daughter,
Hang your clothes on a hickory limb,
But don’t go near the water.”

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Two days ago, my wife and I found a woman’s purse left behind in a Yellow Cab. I wanted to turn it over to the driver, but the wife didn’t think that cab drivers were trustworthy. We decided to take it home, try to locate the owner and mail it to her.

It was a small change purse with lots of cards and penciled notes, but very little in cash––less than $30.00. [The money is still there. I never steal anything less than a million.] There were, however two Barclays Bank Visa cards and another Visa card from an English company called Egg. Unfortunately, while the owner’s name was on the credit cards, nowhere in the purse could we find her address or telephone number. The purse indicated that its owner was English, since all the credit cards and addresses (other than hers) were from the London area. However a New York City Metro Card seemed to indicate that the owner was either a tourist of temporarily living in New York.

This was the start of a senseless, time consuming, highly frustrating Good Samaritan journey. I started with the Metro Card. It had an identification number on the back, as well as a Customer Service phone number. I thought that the number might possibly lead to an address or phone number of the purchaser, since many card buyers use credit cards to make purchases using card renewal machines in subway stations. Bad thinking. After waiting nearly twenty minutes on the phone before reaching an agent, I was informed that the MTA only keeps records of discounted cards purchased by senior citizens. I then phoned the Lost and Found department of the Taxi and Limousine service, hoping that the purse owner had phoned them to report her loss. She hadn’t.

Next try: Barclays Bank in London. [Fortunately, I use a phone service which doesn’t charge extra for England and a few other European countries.] This should have been duck soup. The cards had the cardholder’s name, the card number and a contact phone number for Barclays. Boy was I naive. It took even longer to speak to an Agent than it had with the Metro Card. When I finally found a real live voice, I was told that the lady had already canceled the cards, so I should destroy them. “Fine,” I told the voice at the other end. “Now, can you give me her address or phone number, since I wish to mail her the purse?” Hesitation at the other end. “Sir, we do not give out that information.” I explained that I understood the policy. “In that case, would you please phone her, explain the situation and have her phone me?” I then left my phone number. To no avail. “Sorry, Sir, but we can’t do that.” Ah, the perils of excessive security!

I argued. After all, she was a client or customer of theirs. Losing credit cards, cash and other papers is a deeply troubling experience. [It had once happened to me, and I would have blessed any one who took the time and trouble to return my property] .It was like talking to a wall. I finally elicited a supposedly pertinent reason. The Agent I was talking to was in India. He suggested that I might take the purse to a local Barclays Bank Ah, the perils of outsourcing! By the way, I tried to locate a commercial Barclays Bank in New York with no success. Incidentally a similar phone call to the Egg Visa card people resulted in the same merry-go round.

What next? There were several slips with names and London phone numbers. I tried four of these. Three numbers were no longer in use. The fourth rang and rang and rang. I later found that this was a shop which was closed on Sunday. On Monday, I reached the shop, but the party whose name I had would not be back until the following day. I shall try again. Several of the calling cards in the purse were for shops or services. I have just sent out five E-mails, and I hope that at least one recognizes the name of my purse owner and has her address or phone number in their files. Believe me, I won’t be surprised if they refuse to give me the information FOR SECURITY REASONS.

I wasted well over half a day of frustration trying to be a responsible citizen. I still have the purse, and I’m angry at my wife She should have let me turn it over to our taxi driver. No good deed goes unpunished.

P.S. If JLH, the owner of the lost purse, reads this, please E-mail me at rubimar@nyc.rr.com.
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